Study: Transgender Native Americans Experience Discrimination at Worst Rates

Bias faced by transgender and gender non-conforming people extends into virtually all aspects of their lives, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). But the organization’s most recent transgender discrimination survey, produced in collaboration with the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), reveals that transgender Native Americans experience prejudice at the worst levels.

Injustice at Every Turn: A Look at American Indian and Alaskan Native Respondents in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey” is the fourth and final piece in a series of reports created to shed light on the pervasive discrimination against transgender people of color. Over a six-month period, 6,456 transgender and gender nonconforming people responded to a 70-question survey about their experiences of discrimination and abuse at home, in school, in the public sphere, and in the workplace, as well as with landlords, doctors, and public officials, including judges and police. Among the respondents, 350 identified their race as American Indian or Alaskan Native, including those who identified as mixed race.

Many expressed their gender in culturally-specific ways, such as “Two-Spirit” or the Navajo, “nádleehé,” although the study used the overarching term “transgender and gender non-conforming,” acknowledging its limitations.

The NGLTF deliberately released its latest report on October 8, Columbus Day, with the intention of underscoring the “circumstances that American Indian and Alaskan Native people experience due to a history of colonialism and genocide”—an injustice that continues with a federal holiday that celebrates the so-called “‘discovery’ of America.”

“This report shows the devastating impact that racism and anti-transgender bias play in the lives of American Indian and Alaskan Native transgender people,” Rea Carey, NGLTF’s executive director, said in a press release. “The findings are as heartbreaking as they are unconscionable. They serve as a call to action to the LGBT movement and others to prioritize racial and economic justice and the needs of indigenous nations.”

The report shows how racism and economic marginalization can compound with anti-transgender bias. Of survey respondents, 23 percent reported a household income of less than $10,000 per year, compared to 15 percent for transgender people of all races. The rate is triple that of the general Native American population (8 percent) and nearly six times the general U.S. population rate (4 percent).

The unemployment rate for Native American transgender respondents was 18 percent—more than twice the rate of the general population (7 percent) in 2008, when the survey was fielded.

Native transgender students reported rates of harassment at 86 percent, physical assault at 51 percent and sexual assault at 21 percent in K-12. Suicide rates for transgender Native Americans reached 56 percent, in comparison to the 41 percent rate of all study respondents.

“These findings underscore the importance of recognizing that Two-Spirit, trans and gender non-conforming American Indians and Alaskan Natives are a significant and too-often-marginalized part of LGBT communities, and communities that face substantial and sometimes unique challenges,” said NCTE executive director Mara Keisling. “This research contributes to our long-held belief that policy makers must understand and act on the deep disparities that exist within people of color communities.”

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